Wednesday, August 29, 2001 - At Busch Stadium II (Bud Smith - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: San Diego Padres (Bobby Jones - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 31,362
When the Cardinals beat the Padres by the score of 16-14 on this date in 2001, it became the ninth time in franchise history St Louis had played in games with a combined score of at least thirty runs. With this win, they have now won four of those nine games - and with a margin of victory of just two runs - it was the closest slug-fest in franchise history.
After the Padres roughed up Cardinal starter Bud Smith for two first-inning runs - and another pair in the second, on the strength of a Ryan Klesko two-out two-run home run - the Redbirds suddenly found themselves in a 4-0 hole as they prepared to take their turn at bat in the bottom of the second.
Padres starter Bobby Jones retired Albert Pujols to record the first out of the inning - but it was all downhill for San Diego after that. Jim Edmonds started what would become a nine-run rally with a double. By the time the Cardinals finished they would pound out seven hits - including a pair of two-run home runs by J.D. Drew and the guy who started the rally - Jim Edmonds. They would also benefit from a very costly San Diego error - making five of the nine runs scored of the unearned variety.
After Edmonds belted his two-run bomb to close out the scoring, manager Bruce Bochey had to remove his battered starter after just 1.2 innings of work. Chuck McElroy came in from the bullpen to retire Craig Paquette to mercifully end the assault - at least for the time being.
While the Cardinals were taking a little breather after that nine-run outburst, San Diego went back on the offensive. In the fourth-inning, a one-out walk to Rickey Henderson, his inevitable stolen base and a fielding miscue by shortstop Edgar Renteria suddenly had runners on second and third for the hot-hitting Klesko - who scored 'em both with a double to make it a 9-6 game. LaRussa had stuck with his young starter as long as he could. Smith only made it through 3.1 innings - five outs shy of qualifying for the win. However, the way the Padres were teeing off on him, it's doubtful he would've made it through five innings with the lead.
Gene Stechschulte came in from the bullpen to face the next batter - Phil Nevin - who took him deep - for a two-run home run, to make it a 9-8 game. Gene settled down after that to retire the side with no further damage - then he pitched a scoreless fifth-inning to put himself in line for the win - which seemed more likely, after Jim Edmonds came through again - with a two-out two-run fourth-inning single to give the Cards a little breathing room - 11-8.
Incredibly, Edmonds would be the only Cardinal base runner left on base in this game. Whenever they failed to score, they never even bothered to get a runner on base - and that happened in four different innings. This set another obscure franchise record: Fewest Runners Left on Base When Scoring 16 or More Runs - a record that never even occurred to me until this moment. In fact, it's probably a major league record.
As if on cue, the Cardinals score two more runs in the fifth without leaving any runners on base - and they do it without hitting the ball. In fact, those two runs score when pinch hitter Bobby Bonilla strikes out - with two runners on base - Renteria and Marrero (who both walked). While Padres pitcher Nunez was preoccupied with striking out Bobby B, he didn't notice that Renteria (on second) and Marrero (on first) were planning to execute a double steal. Padres catcher Ben Davis, in his attempt to nail Renteria at third, instead threw the ball to Rickey Henderson in left field - allowing Renteria to score the first run on the play.
As Henderson retrieved the errant throw, Marrero was now heading for third, which caused Rickey to make another errant throw in the general direction of third base. As the ball was now rolling into an area uninhabited by any San Diego player with a glove on either hand, Marrero proceeded to race home with the second run on the play. Had this occurred in a World Series, it no doubt would have been referred to as The Play.
Fortunately, for the Cardinals, Bonilla struck out. Had he fouled that pitch off, or put it "in play" - unless he hits one in the gap - those runs likely would not have scored - and this game would have been tied 14-14 - heading into overtime. Bonilla, in his final season as a major league player, perhaps made his greatest contribution to the Cardinals - by striking out in this situation.
With the Cardinals now leading, 13-8, the Padres scored three sixth-inning runs off reliever Mike Timlin - the last two scoring on former-Cardinal Ray Lankford's double. It was now a 13-11 game.
The score remained 13-11 as the Padres took their turn at bat in the eighth-inning. After giving up three singles, Cardinal reliever Steve Kline quickly found himself in a bases loaded one-out situation. LaRussa stuck with him - and Kline responded by inducing Ben Davis to hit a convenient ground ball to Renteria at shortstop - who stepped on second and tossed to first for the inning-ending double play.
The Cardinals tacked on three insurance runs when they took their turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth. It all started with two out and nobody on base. Polanco singled, then Drew doubled, putting runners on second and third for Albert Pujols. With first base open, Padres reliever David Lundquist chose to pitch to the rookie, as Jim Edmonds - who had already driven in four runs tonight - was lurking on deck.
Up to this point, Pujols had not driven in a run - but he got three RBI with one swing of the bat. His three-run home run cleared the bases once again - and gave the Cardinals a comfortable 16-11 lead, heading into the ninth-inning.
Reliever Dave Veres - in a non-save situation - yielded a two-run home run to Cesar Crespo and a solo blast by Ryan Klesko - to make it a save situation, if TLR went to the bullpen again. But he let Veres finish his work, which also included a pair of strikeouts.
It was finally over. Stechschulte - in relief of Bud Smith - picked up the win by managing to record five outs - three of them coming on strikeouts. He also surrendered a home run with an inherited runner on base - so that run was charged to Smith, whose final pitching line read: 3.1 IP - 5 H - 7 R - 5 ER - 4 BB - 4 SO - 1 HR.
As Smith pondered his disappointing performance in tonight's game - when his team erased an early four-run deficit by scoring nine runs for him in the second-inning - but failed last the necessary five innings to qualify for the win - he knew he needed to make some serious adjustments.
On Monday, September 3, Bud Smith would be the starting pitcher against the same team that knocked him out of this game so early. The venue would move to San Diego. The game would be televised on ESPN. The outcome would be a complete surprise to everyone.